The University of Chicago recently welcomed representatives from 21 minority- and women-owned firms at the University’s eighth annual Professional Services Symposium, a two-day event designed to connect University administrators with firms providing a wide range of services.
The event included a pre-symposium reception where senior University leaders discussed their professional services needs, a day of meetings at the Gleacher Center where firms presented their capabilities and a post-symposium networking reception at the Gordon Parks Arts Hall. During the closing reception on Nov. 16, President Robert J. Zimmer affirmed UChicago’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in a fireside-chat-style conversation with NBC 5 Chicago news anchor and reporter Marion Brooks.
Zimmer said the University holds the annual event in order to benefit from the participating firms’ diverse talents, which might go untapped otherwise. The value of diversity is reflected in all aspects of the University’s mission.
“Creating an environment where we can connect to all the available talent—students, faculty, staff and contractors—is of paramount importance to us,” Zimmer said.
Since the inception of the annual symposium, 250 minority- and women-owned businesses have participated in the event, which targets local and national firms in the areas of architecture and engineering, communications, financial services, human resources, IT, legal services and money management. New firms are invited to participate each year.
More than 60 firms have obtained contracts with the University through exposure to hiring administrators. For instance, six years ago, the University’s investment office hired two African American-owned money management firms as a result of the symposium—the first time UChicago had hired an African American-owned firm for this work. Today, 15 minority- and women-owned firms are managing the University’s endowment investments.
The networking reception highlights firms that have successfully completed projects for UChicago and provides an opportunity for University leaders who have worked with those firms to share their experiences with colleagues.
“To obtain the most qualified business talent in the marketplace, we seek out and retain minority- and women-owned firms,” said Nadia Quarles, assistant vice president for business diversity at UChicago. “The MWBEs we have contracted with are nimble, innovative, provide attentive customer service and oftentimes better pricing because of lower overhead.”
Zimmer noted the country’s historical patterns of exclusionary behavior and how those patterns affect who gets hired or who get contracts. He stressed that the diversity symposium is one way to level the playing field and create networks and connections that can result in opportunities based on talent and ability.
“Just the judgment that diversity is good is not adequate—rather, institutions need to ask themselves, what are they prepared to do? Our Office of Business Diversity has been instrumental in helping us maintain that focus, and we prioritize it because the payoff is real,” said Zimmer. “This event has been of enormous benefit and has expanded the pool and scope of people connected to the University.”
Symposium attendees said that implementing a successful diversity and inclusion program requires the support of leaders within the University and in the business community. Providing leadership for such efforts at UChicago has long been a priority for University Trustee John W. Rogers, Jr.
“Organizations that are serious about diversity and inclusion take deliberate actions to aid diversity and inclusion,” said Rogers, who is also chairman and chief executive officer of Ariel Investments. “The University of Chicago is a large institution whose wide-ranging needs present significant economic opportunities for professional services providers, and I am pleased that the University has taken a leadership position in expanding those opportunities to women and minorities through deliberate efforts such as this annual symposium.”